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UNL considers using Purdue’s Signals program to keep students on track

  • Colleen Fell
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The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is evaluating a software program designed to help students stay on top of their schoolwork. Purdue University just released the program, which tracks and reminds students of assignments, to the commercial market.

The program, called Signals, works through the current online Blackboard system. The system uses a data-mining and analysis program to keep track of work students do outside of class, such as assigned readings. It provides users with a red, yellow or green signal to indicate whether they’re on track for a course.

Amy Goodburn, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs at UNL, said the university is looking at and evaluating the program. The university has not yet decided if it will use the program, which UNL would have to pay for.

“We haven’t seen any programs yet that have quite met our expectation,” Goodburn said.

Signals has been in use at Purdue for the last few years and has benefitted students’ academic careers, according to Purdue research. Since 2007, students at Purdue who used Signals with at least one of their classes had a 20.9 greater six-year graduation rate than students who did not use the program. In addition, students who used Signals for two or more of their classes graduated within six years at a rate 21.5 percent greater than students who did not use Signals.

The closest system to Signals UNL currently offers is MyPLAN, which runs through Blackboard. MyPLAN has two main functions: the connection function and an early warning system. The connection function lets students schedule appointments with teachers and advisers and tracks a student’s advising history. If a student is having academic difficulty, with the early warning system a professor can send a “flag” to warn a student. If a student acquires three flags in a semester, an email is automatically sent to the student’s adviser to follow up with the student.

Goodburn said a program such as Signals would not replace MyPLAN.

Some UNL students see the benefits in using a program such as Signals.

Erik Lolland, a sophomore political science major at UNL, said the program would help him keep track of his classes and work.

“It’s another way to stay more connected to what you’re doing,” Lolland said.

With the program, not only will students be able to keep track of their written work, but professors will also be able to see if students are keeping up with their online work.

For example, if a professor puts up an online reading assignment, he or she will be able to see if a student has opened a PDF file, according to Goodburn.

Lolland said while the idea of his professors being able to see all of his work would be strange, it may be beneficial.

“It’s kind of a double-edged sword,” Lolland said. “You’d get yourself in gear if your professor can see that you don’t do your work.”

UNL has been looking into programs similar to Signals for the past few years, according to Goodburn. She said a program like this may help students be more responsible for their own learning.

“We’re always looking for the next thing that will help students with their academic careers,” she said.

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